The Challenges of Racism Influential for the Life of Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama Research Paper

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

Challenges Experienced in Childhood

Frederick Douglass experienced the first challenges associated with racism during the first years of his life as a slave because he was separated from his mother and observed the slaves’ sufferings from beatings, physical tortures, and other cruel practices performed by slave owners. Douglass stated that those practices were “a common custom” (Douglass 15).

During his childhood, Douglass received self-education because of his efforts and contacts with educated masters such as Mrs. Sophia Auld who taught the alphabet for Douglass (Douglass 45).

However, Douglass became an influential anti-slavery and human rights activist because in the early childhood he learnt the power of education to fight inequality with the help of his literary and public speaking skills to mobilize people against the evil of slavery.

If Douglass began to suffer from being a black slave during his early childhood, Barack Obama born in the family of Ann Dunham and the Kenyan Barack Obama Sr. did not face the challenges of racial discrimination so vividly.

Thus, Obama coped with challenges of racism with the help of his relatives’ explanations and support of the friends. Obama states, “The children of farmers, servants, and low-level bureaucrats had become my best friends” (Obama 25).

However, Obama portrays his first-hand experience with racism as the struggle to fit in the American society of white people and access equal education because of being one of several black students in the school environments (Obama 31-38).


Being a slave, Frederick Douglass had no opportunity to attend schools and receive education. The white farmers made it impossible for slave children to access education, making the blacks more ignorant when white children could be sent to the best schools to contribute to their future careers. According to Douglass, it was typical for the white farmers to keep their slaves uneducated to perpetuate slavery.

Douglass even refers to one master’s words, “Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world” (Douglass 41). Thus, Douglass had to educate himself and learn how to read and write (Douglass 46-47). This situation differs from the case of Barack Obama who was not prevented from receiving education because of race and social status.

Although Obama was provided with an opportunity to receive the perfect education in the Punahou elite private school located in Honolulu, Hawaii, he also faced a kind of discrimination. Obama was the representative of the black minority at school.

In spite of the success in study, Barack suffered from discrimination and racism because some students called him a ‘coon’, a tennis pro once said that Barack’s “color might rub off”, and the basketball coach was not satisfied with the black players’ style of playing (Obama 48-49).

Parenting and Personal Identity

The fact of being a black slave also influenced Douglass’s understanding and perception of his identity. Douglass did not know his father, but there were rumours that he was the son of his white master. According to Douglass, slave children hardly knew their origins, dates of birth, and relatives because they were separated from their mothers and relatives early in their life (Douglass 15).

For instance, the white farmer separated little Frederick from his mother probably to avoid any disclosure of the fact that the boy was his biological son. Separation was a form of the psychological pressure realized by white slave owners in order to “destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child” and to intensify the pressure among the slaves and contribute to their obedience (Douglass 16).

The challenges experienced by Obama were associated with the impossibility to contact his father and conclude strictly about Barack’s personal and racial identity because different cultures and races were mixed in his personality. Barack was separated from his father after the parents’ divorce, and he wanted to know more about his father and origins.

However, Obama did not discuss his identity only with references to the parenting issues or race. Thus, Obama states in his autobiography, “My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t, end there” (Obama 66).

Challenges in Adulthood and Career Development

In spite of the fact that both Obama and Douglass were of the mixed origin and discussed by the majority of people as the blacks, the challenges which they faced during their adult life and careers’ development were rather different because Douglass had to overcome the problems associated with slavery and racism when Obama faced the challenges connected with the subtle discrimination prohibited in the American society after the abolishment of slavery and achievements of the civil rights movement.

From this point, the challenges experienced by these two persons in relation to racism were rather incomparable.

Moving from masters to masters, Douglass dreamed about escaping from slavery and starting a new life of a free person. However, Douglass’s focus on educating himself provided more opportunities for him to become a free person. Having planned the escape, Douglass had to work for the masters till he found the job by himself, and he could realize his plans for escaping to the Northern states of the country.

Thus, Douglass states, “I was ever on the look-out for means of escape” (Douglass 93). The life of Douglass was focused on this idea to escape from slavery, and the further career of Douglass as the orator and activist depends on his desire to contribute to making the other slaves free.

To achieve the personal freedom, Douglass had to develop and rely on endearing friendships and risk with his life as an ideologist of anti-slavery movements.

In his turn, Barack Obama suffered from the specific type of racism during the years of developing his career as a lawyer and a politician because many representatives of the American society expressed prejudice in relation to the ability of black men to achieve the great career results.

However, many prejudicial and discriminatory practices were rather indirect in comparison with the situation of Douglass when he was directly persecuted because of his race. While making first career successes, Obama met Marty Kaufman who invited the man to Chicago.

According to Obama, Kaufman tried “to pull urban blacks and suburban whites together around a plan to save manufacturing jobs in metropolitan Chicago. He needed somebody to work with him, he said. Somebody black” (Obama 80). It was one of cases when Obama received opportunities to refer to his race and identity in order to fight racism and discrimination.


Thus, racism and associated challenges influenced the lives of Douglass and Obama differently in relation to the intensity of experienced difficulties. Nevertheless, Douglass and Obama used their experience in order to confront racism with the help of their lives, careers, and social activities.

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. USA: Wilder Publications, 2008. Print.

Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. USA: Crown Publishing Group, 2007. Print.

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